Monday, April 14, 2003
Kim Jong-Il takes up music criticism.
Critics are known to have a dictatorial streak, and why wouldn't they? Those who spend so much of their lives in theaters and concert halls naturally wish to do so in the company of that which suits them. What happens, though, when the power that critics wish for is real? As when a true dictator turns critic? That's the question posed by a singular cultural artifact, the book On the Art of Opera by North Korean dictator Kim Jong II. I'm not making this up.
The 177-page homily originating as a lecture in the mid-'70s to those who are called, in a socialist society, "creative workers in the field of art and literature." It was republished a year or two ago, without so much as a laudatory blurb by Pol Pot, by University Press of the Pacific in Honolulu, a shadowy operation whose only address is a Web site. Since Kim's recent saber-rattling, On the Art of Opera has been stumbled upon by a number of opera lovers on Amazon.com, where it's ranked 1,260,094.
You might assume the book is a socialist critique of La Traviata and Carmen. Unfortunately, it's nothing so delicious, and isn't even whacked-out enough to be fun. It's just desperately prosaic and, for us, a creepy cautionary tale about what happens when someone whose favorite opera is titled Sea of Blood (and whose favorite movie is Rocky III, according to another of his aesthetic tracts, On the Art of the Cinema) attempts to legislate the artistic process.
Click here to check out the book at Amazon, and here for his cinema book.